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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On My Wall: a Stolen Mayan Artifact

I consider the stealing and selling of items from ancient sites to be a great crime. History that could be discovered and enjoyed is lost, because, even if the item is recovered it is of little use to archaeologists because they are unlikely to know how to place it in geography and history. In short something of great value to mankind is made virtually worthless. Sadly, I display such an object on my wall. 

In 1986 on a street in Guatemala City, a dignified indigenous Guatemalan (dressed in traditional clothing familiar to me) approached me and asked if I wished to buy the small stone icon he held. In the dim light, the piece seemed crude, probably recently and incompletely carved, touched with shoe polish to make it look older. Impressed, however, by the dignity and courtesy of the man, I gave him the $5 he requested and took the icon. It returned with me to Costa Rica where we were living then, and in 1987 got unpacked in Fort Collins when we returned from Central America. Within hours of buying the object and for years after I worried that it might not be a fake. It lay on various shelves, sometimes served as a paperweight. Then soon after the turn of the 21st century, we hosted in our home the director of Guatemala's national park at the Mayan site, Tikal. I begged him to confirm that it was a fake.

I made detailed photo images of it for him to share with a colleague at the University of Pennsylvania. Both told me it is most likely a true artifact of the ancient Maya, probably carved from Jade or Jadeite. I asked our guest to take it back to Guatemala where it belonged. Both he and his colleague said that it would just wind up in a drawer and be of no help in research, because it was impossible to know from which site it was stolen nor the era when it was carved. I reluctantly accepted their judgment. Eight years later, 2014, a good friend convinced me the icon needed to be displayed. He made a mount for it, and we placed it on a wall in the bathroom he had just helped me relocate and construct on our main floor.

(c) from date of posting, by Bob Komives, Fort Collins 

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